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EarthTalk®

by Doug Moss & Roddy Scheer


EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Summer is near and I am planning a big road trip. Do you have any tips for boosting my car’s fuel efficiency on long, hot drives? -- Esther McCoy, Burlington, VT

Ah, the summer road trip, that classic American experience. But long drives through steamy weather can burn through a lot of gas and cause untold wear and tear on your car’s engine and systems while putting you at risk for overheating. Doubling down on tactics to help your car run better will not only improve fuel efficiency, but could also help you avoid spending a large chunk of your vacation time in the breakdown lane waiting for a tow.

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), there are lots of ways to conserve fuel on hot weather road trips that also will help prolong the life of your car. “In summer, drive during cooler parts of the day,” reports the group. “Cooler, denser air can boost power and mileage.”

While it may seem counterintuitive, using your car’s air conditioning is actually a smart idea in hot weather. “Today’s air conditioners create less drag on the engine than driving with the windows open,” says AAA. Meanwhile, if you have a hybrid, pre-cool it before you get in so it can devote more electricity to driving when you are out on the road. But don’t warm-up (or pre-cool) a conventional car, as the extra idling doesn’t do the car any good and just wastes fuel and creates extra heat. Another key tip for hot weather driving is to park in the shade when you can.

The Green Car Reports website suggests utilizing cruise control and overdrive features on cars that offer them on long summer roads trips; these features help normalize the energy demands of the engine which in turn helps conserve fuel.

According to AA1car.com, a leading online information resource on auto repair and maintenance, placing a sunshade under the windshield and cracking the windows when parked can help keep the interior cool between drives. This can also “lighten the cooling load on the air conditioner when the vehicle is first started.” The website also reports that changing old dirty motor oil with a fresh higher viscosity one will help keep your car’s engine lubricated and running smoothly on those summer road trips. “For example, you might want to change from 5W-30 to 10W-30, 10W-40 or 20W-30 for hot weather driving,” reports AA1car.com. “Synthetic motor oils are even better for high temperature protection.”

Of course, some fuel saving tips apply any time of year. For instance, jackrabbit starts are a big no-no; drivers should always try to accelerate gradually. Taking your foot off the gas as early as possible when approaching a red light is another way to save gas. Keeping filters clean, maintaining recommended tire pressure and driving at the speed limit are additional ways to conserve fuel, reduce emissions and treat your ride nicely.

Of course, summertime road trips can also be hard on drivers and passengers, so pack plenty of sunscreen — especially if you plan to have the windows open (or top down)—and bring along a cooler with healthy drinks so everyone can stay hydrated.

CONTACTS: AAA, www.aaa.com; Green Car Reports, www.greencarreports.com; AA1car.com, www.aa1car.com.


Dear EarthTalk: What are so-called non-human rights? – Richard Montcalm, Jenkintown, PA

Non-human rights is a term coined by animal welfare activist and lawyer Steven Wise, who has campaigned for three decades to achieve actual legal rights for members of species other than our own. His organization, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), is working “to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere ‘things’ which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to ‘persons’ who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.”

According to NhRP, nonhuman animals are still considered property in the eyes of the law. Even those animals that we know possess feelings, emotions and higher forms of intelligence—great apes, elephants, dolphins, whales—have no more legal standing than a shoe, a table or a car.

“These are complex animals who have deep emotions, understand each other’s minds, live in complicated societies, transmit culture, use sophisticated communication, solve difficult problems, and even mourn the loss of their loved ones,” reports the group. “Just like humans.”

“But they are still considered property, poached and taken from their natural habitat, separated and held against their will, subjected to cruel experimentation, exploited for entertainment, sold on the black market, used, abused and treated like objects for our amusement and financial gain,” says NhRP, adding that such experiences can scar animals for life. “Yet the law affords them no rights, allowing humans to do with them whatever we want.”

Wise and company would like to see animals who are confined for use in research or entertainment have the opportunity to live out their days in a wildlife sanctuary with a hospitable climate where they can enjoy “bodily liberty” to pursue their free will. NhRP is working to first establish a legal precedent that nonhumans can have legal rights in the U.S. judicial system. The organization filed its first cases in New York State in December 2013 representing four individual chimpanzees being used in research labs and for entertainment purposes, and hopes to expand its caseload to other nonhuman species in the near future.

In the meantime, NhRP is looking for the help of volunteer lawyers, scientists, mathematicians and predictive analysis professionals interested in lending their expertise to the fight for recognizing the legal rights of nonhumans.

“Over the coming years, we will be filing as many cases as we can afford, so contributions are very important, too,” reports the group. “We also need funds to help establish sanctuaries for the animals we’re working to free from captivity.”

Why should we care that animals have legal rights too? Steven Wise is fond of quoting Abraham Lincoln, who said: “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free.” If we don’t want to live in a world where humans are enslaved, why should we tolerate similar treatment of our closest animal relatives and other sentient beings great and small? Whether or not the chimps he is fighting for ever get to a sanctuary, Steven Wise will forever go down in history as the Abraham Lincoln of the non-human rights movement.

CONTACT: Nonhuman Rights Project, www.nonhumanrightsproject.org.


Dear EarthTalk: What’s the latest with the U.S. Postal Service trying to reduce its environmental footprint? Starting delivery of some mail on Sundays doesn’t seem like a step in the right direction.
-- Kerry Rawlings, Albany, NY

As recent TV ads have been telling us, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has recently started delivering some mail on Sunday in what most chalk up to an effort to stay one step ahead of United Parcel Service (UPS) and Federal Express (Fedex). But while Sunday delivery may be convenient for consumers, environmental leaders worry that adding an extra day causes an unnecessary waste of fuel and carbon emissions. Though this service has been implemented too recently for any concrete statistics on its increase of greenhouse gas emissions, the USPS has several other initiatives already in process that can, at the very least, perhaps help to offset the environmental impact of this new increase.

Recycling, one of the familiar poster-children of the green movement, has become a true priority at the USPS in recent years. In 2012, USPS saved over 250,000 tons of paper, cans and plastic waste. In the lobbies of local post offices are over 22,000 recycling bins for those looking to dispose of any paper products. These same offices also offer eco-friendly envelopes, boxes made from recycled materials, and stamps that make use of a biodegradable adhesive.

Another important environmental initiative of USPS is its Return for Good program which facilitates recycling of stuff besides paper. Under the program, USPS collects expired prescription drugs, small electronics, empty ink cartridges and even fluorescent lamps. This program recovered approximately 172,000 pounds of unused pharmaceuticals in 2012. Recyclers can save themselves a trip to the post office to turn in recycled items by scheduling a pickup from the trucks already driving nearby 6-7 days/week. USPS even offers cash back on some newer electronics devices.

There are also efforts to reduce the impact of the large fleet of postal delivery trucks. According to the article, “Greener Delivery?” in the Harvard Gazette, the USPS has begun the process of replacing 180,000 of its trucks with more eco-friendly alternatives. The recognizable boxy mail trucks seem to be a thing of the past, as a January proposal suggested several design alterations to enhance efficiency and reduce emissions from the current rate of 9 miles per gallon. In addition to changes to the traditional truck, there are already around 42,000 alternative-fuel vehicles in the USPS fleet, most of them using ethanol as a fuel source. There are also electric, natural gas and bio-diesel trucks.

Of course, another way USPS is trying to reduce its environmental impact is to cut out consumers trips—and the emissions entailed—to the post office. Consumers can now print out pre-paid labels to simply attach to packages. By scheduling a pickup from your home, the mailman who passes every day will pick up your package and begin the delivery process.

Two other important programs can help reduce consumers’ environmental footprint. If you are going out of town, go to USPS.com and put your mail on hold until you return, eliminating unnecessary deliveries to your house. And alerting USPS when you move will also stop extraneous deliveries to your old abode. 

While USPS may never be able to be as green as the beast that is killing it, e-mail, at least it is making strides in the right direction, even if you do get packages on Sundays.

CONTACT: USPS, www.usps.com.


Dear EarthTalk: I recently heard about a cafe in the Netherlands that harvests so-called “kinetic” energy from its revolving door to power its interior lights. Is there potential for “kinetic” energy to provide significant amounts of electricity to help replace fossil fuels? – Doug Mola, Boise, ID

Physicists define “kinetic” energy as the energy of motion (as opposed to potential energy, which represents an object’s stored energy). While there is not much that is practical that we can do with potential energy, kinetic energy is another matter. We can capture energy from all sorts of everyday activities, and entrepreneurs around the world are working hard on ways to make kinetic energy more accessible. But we may be decades from realizing any serious fossil fuel displacement from this age-old energy source, and by then other alternative energy sources may have already made coal, oil and natural gas things of the past.

While the cutting edge revolving door at Natuurcafé La Port in Beerschoten, Netherlands (about 30 miles southeast of Amsterdam) may be one of the best examples of repurposing the kinetic energy that humans generate through their movement into electricity to power their stuff—the door connects the cafe to an adjoining train station and generates some 4600 kWh of electricity annually—it’s far from the only one.

The Soccket is a soccer ball that was designed by Harvard undergraduates for a class project—and since incorporated as the company Uncharted Play—that harvests energy when it is kicked around and can then be used to power an included energy efficient 3-LED lamp that runs for up to three hours after just 20 minutes or so of soccer. “The more the ball rolls, the more power that’s generated,” reports Uncharted Play, which got the idea for the ball as a way to help eliminate the use of kerosene. The company also makes the Pulse, a portable, emergency battery charging jump rope designed to promote physical activity and spread awareness about the global energy problem. While the Pulse is a jump rope just like any other, it is also a portable battery charger that can be powered up from a power outlet or even better from using it. For every Soccket or Pulse purchased ($99/each), Uncharted Play donates one to a kid in a developing country who might not otherwise have access to electricity to provide a light to read at night.

Another innovative application of kinetic energy is from Pavegen, which produces floor tiles that absorb kinetic energy when people walk on them. The tiles are made with recycled materials and contain small LEDs that light up to show they are working. Meanwhile, KinergyPower is applying the same principal to harnessing the kinetic energy from vehicles through designed road surfaces that turn vehicle motion into electricity.

But while kinetic energy shows lots of potential for helping transition away from fossil fuels, it may never become more than a novelty if we continue to focus our energy resources on other proven clean renewables like solar arrays and wind farms. Regardless, get used to seeing more and more kinetic energy harvesting from flooring, sidewalks, soccer balls, jump ropes and who knows what else. Going through a revolving door never felt so good.

CONTACTS: Uncharted Play, www.unchartedplay.com; Pavegen, www.pavegen.com; KinergyPower, www.kinergypower.com.

EarthTalk® is produced by Doug Moss & Roddy Scheer and is a registered trademark of Earth Action Network Inc. View past columns at:www.earthtalk.org . Or e-mail us your question: earthtalk@emagazine.com



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